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François Darlan (7 August 1881 – 24 December 1942) was a Frenchmarker naval officer. Darlan rose through the French Navy, ultimately becoming Admiral of the Fleet, and was a major figure of the Vichy France regime during World War II.

Darlan was born in Néracmarker, Lot-et-Garonnemarker, graduating from the École Navale in 1902. During World War I, he commanded an artillery battery. He remained in the French Navy after the war, and was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1929 and Vice Admiral in 1932. Darlan was made an Admiral and Chief of Staff in 1936. In 1939 he was promoted to "Amiral de la flotte", a rank created only for him, and given command of the entire French Navy.

Vichy government

When Parismarker was occupied in June 1940, Darlan was one of those who supported the premier and head of state, Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain. Darlan was rewarded by retaining his post as minister of the navy, and he quickly ordered the majority of the fleet to French North Africa. The British feared the French fleet would fall into Germanmarker hands, so it was destroyed by the Royal Navymarker at Mers El Kébirmarker on 3 July at the cost of around 1,300 French naval casualties.

In February 1941, Darlan replaced Pierre-Étienne Flandin as Pétain's deputy. He was also named minister for the interior, defence and foreign affairs, making Darlan the de facto head of the Vichy government. In January 1942, Darlan took control of a number of other government posts. Though Darlan came from a Republican upbringing and never believed in the National Revolution, he was as much a "collaborator" as Laval was, and Darlan promoted a political alliance between French Vichy Forces and Nazi Germany through Paris Protocols. However, the German government had become suspicious of his opportunism and "malleable loyalties." In April, Darlan was made to surrender the majority of his responsibilities back to Laval, whom the Nazis considered more trustworthy. Darlan retained the post of Commander of the French Armed Forces.

Putsch of 8 November

On 7 November, just before the beginning of Operation Torchmarker, Darlan went to Algiersmarker to visit his son, who was hospitalised after a severe attack of polio. Darlan did not know that secret agreements had been made in Cherchell on 23 October between Algerian resistance and General Mark Clark of the combined allied command.

Just past noon on 8 November, 400 poorly armed French partisans attacked the coastal artillery of Sidi Ferruchmarker and the Vichy XIX Army Corps of Algiers. About 15 hours later, the resistance fighters had neutralised both forces. Under the command of José Aboulker, Henri d'Astier de La Vigerie, and Colonel Jousse, the insurgent force occupied most of the strategic points of Algiers under the cover of darkness (the General Government, Prefecture, Staff headquarters, telephone exchange, barracks, police headquarters, etc.) and arrested most of the Vichy military and civil officials. One of the civilian groups, cadets of Ben-Aknoun College under the command of a cadet named Pauphilet, succeeded in arresting Darlan and General Juin, chief commandant in North Africa. The attack by French resistance became known as the Putsch of 8 November.

After three days of threats and talks, Clark compelled Darlan and Juin to order French forces to cease hostilities on 10 November in Oranmarker and 11 November in Moroccomarker – provided Darlan remained head of a French administration. In return, General Eisenhower acquiesced in Darlan’s self-nomination as High Commissioner of France for North and West Africa on 14 November, a move that enraged Charles de Gaulle. On 27 November, the remaining French naval vessels were scuttled at Toulonmarker.

For this, Darlan was dismissed from the Vichy government and Vichy Southern France was 'invaded' by the German army in Case Anton. Most French troops in Africa followed Darlan's lead, but certain elements joined the German forces in Tunisia.

On the afternoon of 24 December 1942, a 20-year-old French monarchist, Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle, entered Darlan's headquarters in Algiers and shot Darlan twice. Although La Chapelle had been a member of the resistance group led by Henri d'Astier, it is believed he acted alone. Darlan died a few hours later. Darlan was replaced as High Commissioner by another French flag officer, General Henri Giraud. La Chapelle was executed by firing squad on 26 December.There are serious doubts on the fact that de La Chapelle acted alone, it seems that a SOE involvement was likely, as British historian David Raynolds writes in his book: "In Command of History" noting that Sir Stewart Menzies, the chief of the British Secret Intelligence Servicemarker (MI6) who rarely left London during the war, was in Algiers in those days.

Darlan was unpopular with the Allies—he was considered pompous, having asked Eisenhower to provide 200 Coldstream Guards and Grenadier Guards as an honour company for the commemoration of Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz—and it was said that "no tears were shed" at his funeral.

References

Jean-Baptiste Duroselle,Politique étrangère de la France:L'abîme.1940-1944.Imprimerie nationale,1982,1986
  • Henri Michel, Darlan, Hachette, Paris, 1993.
  • George F. Howe, North West Africa: Seizing the initiative in the West, Center of Military history, US Army, Library of Congress, 1991.
  • Arthur L. Funck, The politics of Torch, University Press of Kansas, 1974.
  • Simon Kitson, Vichy et la chasse aux espions nazis, Paris, Autrement, 2005
  • Simon Kitson, The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2008
  • Professeur Yves Maxime Danan, La vie politique à Alger de 1940 à 1944, Paris, L.G.D.J., 1963.
  • Christine Levisse-Touzet, L'Afrique du Nord dans la guerre, 1939-1945, Paris, Albin Michel, 1998.
  • Professeur José Aboulker et Christine Levisse-Touzet, 8 novembre 1942 : Les armées américaine et anglaise prennent Alger en quinze heures, Paris, « Espoir », n° 133, Paris, 2002.
  • Bernard Karsenty, Les compagnons du 8 novembre 1942, Les Nouveaux Cahiers, n°31, Nov. 1972.



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